Programs Create Friendships, Combat Isolation

Programs Create Friendships, Combat Isolation

December 20, 2019

Merle Ryan is one of our residents at Glenmeadow. She was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and wanted to give her time and energy to someone else as a way to cope and distract herself from her illness.

Along with a handful of other volunteers, we trained Merle to take part in our Neighbor to Neighbor program. In its second year, it pairs people longing for socialization with friendly visitors.

Merle built a relationship with a peer in Longmeadow. “You don’t realize how much I get
back from doing this,” she says. “I’m getting so much out of this relationship with this person. She’s helped me too.”

The Neighbor to Neighbor program combats isolation and serves both people living at Glenmeadow and in their own homes. Funding to launch the work came in 2018 from Greater Springfield Senior Services, Inc. (GSSSI), which provided a $5,000 grant. We took the lead, assisted by these regional partners: the First Church of Christ, the Longmeadow Adult Center, the Spiritual Services and the Clinical Pastoral Education Department at Baystate Medical Center, and Temple Beth El.

This year, we received a $7,000 grant from GSSSI—representing a $2,000 increase we will use to expand Neighbor to Neighbor. Our second-year goal is to double the number of people served to 60. We’re thrilled because research from the American Psychological Association reveals that loneliness now represents a threat to public health that rivals that of smoking.

“Even in an institutional setting, people can still be isolated,” Glenmeadow President and CEO Anne Thomas says. “Isolation produces other issues. It can lead to depression, cognitive decline and major health problems.”

Anne says that isolation is an epidemic. “It is worldwide,” she adds. “There are new statistics that show there are more deaths from isolation than smoking cigarettes.”

Through Neighbor to Neighbor, people volunteer to visit an older adult who feels lonely. Program facilitators train the volunteers and then pair them with a senior. The program coordinator oversees the matches.

“The key piece is the relationship,” Anne says. “We want people to build a relationship. Relationships are an antidote to isolation.”

In its first year, Glenmeadow recruited about 30 Neighbor to Neighbor volunteers. This year, with the increased funding, the goal is to double the number served. To refer an older adult for the program or to become a volunteer, contact Anne at 567-5977.

Anne also asks people living in the region to be on the lookout for individuals who need help. “Being aware that this is a problem and being aware of the scope of the problem is key,” she says.

Raising awareness about isolation for older adults is also a goal, she adds. “Talk to your neighbors. Get to know them. Our lives are so busy now. Our culture has changed. If you have a neighbor who isn’t picking up the mail or taking out the trash, or you see a car sitting in the driveway for weeks at a time, reach out. Let’s go back to living in community again versus everyone living in their own little worlds without connecting with others.”

On the campus of our life plan community, we have another program that helps to combat loneliness. Called the Buddies program, it serves people living with dementia who feel isolated. Volunteers are trained and matched with a resident; the pairs then take part in activities together—attending a program or having breakfast in Longmeadow.

Roughly 15 buddies are improving the quality of life for as many residents.

Older adults are always at the center of what we do. We will
continue to find innovative ways to help older adults connect to others and build relationships.

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